Tanya Hamilton-Smith, Director of The Influence Room and GWG Awards judge spills the beans on fake followers, paid ads, and removing ‘likes.’

Tanya Hamilton-Smith started her career working for Omnicom then WPP agencies across a range of global and local clients. She worked through the shift from traditional to digital advertising with her clients and partners. She co-founded The Influence Room with Alex Payne; identifying and commercialising the market for the product that he created. Here Tanya gives us the lowdown on fake followers, paid ads and likes.

A market snapshot of influencer marketing


Over the past ten years, influencer marketing has become a buoyant investor market and an increasingly popular form of paid media.

For years, brands have commissioned social media influencers as both online content creators and distributors. It is undoubtedly an effective way for brands to reach their target audiences.

With the steep rise in media spend being attributed to this form of paid media, influencers themselves cottoned on to the new earning potential and (literally) thousands cropped up overnight. From the original YouTubers and bloggers of old, came a new breed of ‘influencer’. These were creators or editors who commanded a strong volume of followers who publicly ‘liked’ their posts across several, heavily engaging platforms. All good. Less good, however, were the other ‘influencers’ (12% of all Instagram influencers as reported by Campaign Deus) who purchased followers or created fake accounts and also reaped the reward of a brand’s spend.

In 2018 alone, £200m is the UK reported brand spend wasted on fake followers. With this criminal level of ad fraud, regulatory bodies struggled to keep up with what was an ever-changing landscape and blanket produced consumer protection guidelines which ensured everything was #someonehaspaidformetosaythis.

Today, consumer engagement is declining in line with increasing scepticism and mental health issues over what can only be described as an onslaught of constructed ads across the very channels that people browsed through to find inspiration for the things they loved, the friends they wanted to see and the real stories they craved.

Taking the pressure off


The acknowledgement by Instagram Chief Adam Mosseri that they "want to make it a less pressurised environment" by potentially removing ‘likes’ is well-placed and goes further to show they understand the documented impact of social media on mental health and the potential cannibalisation of the channel by advertisers.

We are now in the era of authentic connection and content vs competition What this move does signal is a shift in direction and a focus on encouraging more authentic content creation and ‘real story-telling’ between brands and influencers - and less focus on competition, paid-for content and benchmarking follower numbers and likes.

Focus on content and the story teller


Whilst paid for partnerships are certainly necessary for delivering specific key messaging and a level of control over the content that goes live on the brand’s behalf, the new move by Instagram is clearly designed to bring a focus to the content and the story teller rather than its popularity.

This champions authenticity and means audiences are being served a diverse range of content rather than being dictated to by the biggest spender.

Throughout this evolution, The Influence Room has been researching, observing and talking to our members about the importance of what these channels represent for them – both as a critical form of media but also for talent, as a means to continue to find content to engage their audiences with. By creating a contra economy, The Influence Room, ensures brands and talent are trading over mutual benefit only; no money is changing hands, no paid media is purchased and subsequently there is no decline in consumer engagement.

It’s all about advocacy; and a brand being just as responsible as the talent at packaging something up that is valuable enough to warrant the most valuable of media being created – both on and offline. And critically, content that is traded for love of the brand not from the campaign price tag.

By Tanya Hamilton-Smith, Director of The Influence Room.

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July 2019